Which companies are best at communicating about climate change on digital channels?

Under pressure from investors, employees, customers and other stakeholders, large companies are becoming more sophisticated about talking about climate change on digital channels. Claire Porteous explores the latest best practice.

We have noted in recent months that more companies are pulling out climate change into separate sections on their corporate websites to highlight their record on the issue, and to make it easier for stakeholders to locate information about the topic.

This may make sense for industries that either create carbon emissions through operations or by financing or insuring projects. This is only one approach, however, and it is possible to communicate about climate change effectively without a dedicated section.

More important than where companies talk about climate change is how they talk about it. We looked at some of the top overall performers in our Index of Online Excellence to see which companies are doing this best.

AXA Clear, effective messaging

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The strength of French multinational insurer AXA’s climate communications lies in its simplicity. The company presents the issue in a journalistic style that is both clear and elegant. AXA states the problem concisely, gives context about the insurance industry, and specific actions it has taken, and its concrete plans for the future.

Visual simplicity adds to the overall effect. You won’t find any data visualisations or oversized numerals on the ‘AXA and Climate Change’ page, in fact there are no visual elements at all to distract from the words on the page. The approach is arguably text-heavy and will not work for every company, but the quality of the writing is strong.

The company’s use of related links is also excellent. A comprehensive list of relevant articles and reports (10 in total) are prominently displayed at the bottom of ‘AXA and Climate Change’.

Total – Detailed microsite and an active CEO

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There is a useful ‘Climate’ section on the French oil and gas major’s corporate website, but the company’s sustainability microsite takes the detail up a notch (although it would benefit from more prominent signposting). 

The microsite provides serious detail on Total’s complete sustainability landscape, including ‘Environment and climate’. It doesn’t rely only on PDFs (although many are available) and lays out a huge amount of information using hard data and interactive graphs. 

The company’s CEO Patrick Pouyann√© adds to the mix, using his social media accounts to drive the message that climate change is a key strategic factor for Total. While this is not out of the ordinary for a modern CEO, he avoids corporate jargon and his open manner feels genuine. 

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ING – Informal tone and effective video

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The Netherlands-based financial services company presents the topic in a way that is easy to understand regardless of whether the reader has a financial background, and makes good use of video to summarise the topic. However CSR professionals could be better catered for with more prominent links to the sustainability report. 

BP – Comprehensive but concise

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BP’s ‘Climate change’ section is the first menu item under ‘Sustainability’, which sends a message about the company’s priorities. It caters well to all audiences with clear and concise messaging, prominent related links and a wide range of relevant content. CEO Bernard Looney drives the message home via personal social media channels (as featured in our recent commentary ‘Should your CEO be on Instagram?)

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More best practice

  • AstraZeneca demonstrates that it isn’t just jumping on the climate bandwagon with its ‘Our environmental protection journey’ timeline, which stretches back to 2001.

  • Bite-size stories, infographics, photos and mini case studies from global operations can often be produced internally and are generally quick to turn around. See HSBC’s ‘Our five pledges’ dropdown, and 3M’s progress graphic as snapshots of tracking progress against goals.

  • Shell has a long-running blog (and still one of the best) by David Hone, the company’s Chief Climate Change Advisor, an excellent example of using internal expertise to promote company messages.

Conclusion – be direct, lose the jargon and provide evidence

In doing the research for this article, we came across a number of examples of poor practice, and mistakes to avoid. These include:

  • Being too vague with labels: Several companies do not make specific reference to climate change and discuss the issue in an indirect way; this may be appropriate, but could also make the material harder to find (via navigation and search), and also give the appearance that the company is being less than transparent.

  • Using jargon and marketing-speak. Use a relatable, matter-of-fact tone with uncomplicated language on the website and social media. We know from our database of corporate website visitor surveys that audiences are annoyed by finding marketing slogans in sustainability sections, and appreciate direct communication.

  • Not providing enough evidence for claims. Many sites are guilty of hiding away relevant detail in PDF documents (e.g. the annual sustainability report). This generally won’t bother CSR professionals, who will dig for the detail, but the majority of other visitors won’t open that report, and it’s unusable for anyone on a mobile device. It’s worth the extra time to pull out the latest figures and case studies and display them in the section, where visitors are more likely to see them. 

Claire Porteous is a consultant with Bowen Craggs

For more insights on all aspects of corporate digital communications from the experts who advise 25 of the world's 200 largest companies, download the Index of Online Excellence and subscribe to our weekly newsletter

 

First published 30 June, 2020
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